60-year-old water dispute refuses to wash away
October 15, 2013A recent ruling by the California Superior Court in north county regarding water rights in the Pauma Valley revisited a longstanding feud.
It began when a group of landowners who lived in what is now part of Rancho Pauma Mutual Water Company, filed a water rights case against the Palomar Mutual Water District, now a part of the Yuima Water District. The ruling, in favor of Rancho Pauma, upholds an agreement known as the Strub Agreement, allowing Yuima to draw only 1,350 acre-feet of water a year.
The agreement is named after Peter Strub, one of the landowners in the 1953 court case. That land is now part of the Rancho Pauma Mutual Water Company, according to Mindy Hauser, Rancho Pauma administrator.
"This was a stipulated decision awarded by the courts in 1953 for the current owner of an area where I now have the water district, Rancho Pauma," she said. "And those people entered into a stipulated agreement with a smaller district up on the hillside because they were coming down into the valley and exporting water up onto the hillside and the people in the river basin were concerned they would have their water supply depleted."
Hauser said the landowners filed the suit against the water company that was awarded a minimum amount of water they could take and the number of wells they could use to extract that water.
"Then Yuima came into the picture in 1968 and acquired that little water district so the judgment was then amended to give them more water draw from the basin's five wells," Hauser said noting that Yuima owns the wells. "They are allowed to take 1,350 acre-feet out of the river basin and put it anywhere in their district they want, but they are limited to 1,350 acre-feet per calendar year."
Hauser said the recent ruling came about because Rancho Pauma believed Yuima was violating that court order so they filed a petition with the court.
"When we found out they were going to develop another well in the river basin and had the potential to pump out another 500 or 600 gallons a minute also, we filed a petition to have the court prevent them from doing more than the agreement allowed which was the 1350 acre-feet," she said.
Last week, Yuima Water District General Manager Len Burzell told the Valley Roadrunner he believed the ruling prejudices the rights of residents in his district and he was concerned how the it could affect water rates.
"If the ruling stands … it will have a significant effect on the district rates" Burzell told the Valley Roadrunner in a phone interview. "It will require we purchase additional water from the San Diego Water District at significantly higher rates."
Those higher rates would then have to be passed along to consumers in the Yuima district, he said.
"I don't know what group of people it prejudices," Hauser said. "... Yuima will have to find the water in excess of the 1350 acre-feet per year. They will have to replace that with either drilling wells someplace else or importing that water from the San Diego (County) Water Authority. That water is expensive and that is why they are up-in-arms because they are going to have to spend more money on water purchase."
According to Hauser, the option to file for damages is still on the table but the Rancho Pauma Board has yet to determine if they will move forward on that aspect of the case.
"Our board has not made that decision yet," she said.
Burzell said he believes the ruling incorrectly interprets the original judgment and once the final ruling is in, Yuima Water District will make the decision whether or not to appeal.
"We honored that agreement," Burzell said, noting that Yuima Water District doesn't believe this judgment is necessarily the final word on the matter and plans to appeal to protect its customers from rate increases."
Hauser said it is important to remember that Yuima is not the victim in this case.
"Rancho Pauma is trying to protect the small people here in the river basin which includes farmers also. We are not just the Pauma Valley Country Club," she said. "We are 400 and some odd residents and commercial businesses. We are a lot more than just the country club. I have a lot of people to protect with their water rights."
Hauser said Rancho Pauma is just asking the courts to uphold an earlier judgment.
"That's what we wanted, and they did," she said. "We are not here to bash Yuima. I understand they have a job to do (too)."